It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.
What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?
Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.
We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.
The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.
How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.
What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?
Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.
I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.
For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.
So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.
But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?
I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?
II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.
God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?
Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.
While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.
But Proverbs 3:34,
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.
III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself
And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.
God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.
How does God reveal Himself to you?
What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?
Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.
What characteristics of God are revealed to us?
Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful
God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.
An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”
A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”
Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.
But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.
Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) –
Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!
He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.
IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action
Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.
When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.
God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?
I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.
Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?
And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”
What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’
V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders
It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 –
But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.
Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?
God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.
And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.
God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.